Thursday, December 04, 2008

Things that are postmodern: an ongoing series: maybe: part one: For Better or For Worse redux

I vaguely remember For Better or For Worse maybe sort of not-sucking at some point in the indeterminate past, but it's been a damned long time, I will tell you that much. Lynn Johnston's treatment of her characters has for a long time been nothing more than an increasingly implausible sequence of wish fulfillment that revealed WAY too much about her own neurotic psychic makeup. I suppose there must be people out there who just THRILLED to the "oh look, aren't the Pattersons the most wonderful, saintly, just-goddamn-PERFECT-in-every-way people" antics. People who didn't find "Elizabeth can NEVER EVER be allowed to escape the stultifying clutches of her horrible family" deeply creepy. And yes, even people who enjoyed the stupid, cutesy puns that had to end EVERY. DAMN. STRIP.

Yes. I am sure these people exist. And I am equally sure I would prefer not to meet them.

But for all its sucktastitudinousness (that's a new word I invented--any theorists who want to use it MUST give me credit), at least it was a real thing. Other comics aren't like it, and you have to grudgingly respect the fact that Johnston's artistic vision, such as it was, sustained itself for thirty-odd years. At least she HAD an artistic vision, however misguided it may have been. You think you can say that for the dudes who write Zombie Shoe?

But now. But now! BUT NOW! Apparently Johnston had no other ideas and no notion of how she could possibly live her life without FBoFW in it, so we are subjected to her surreal effort to rewrite the entire thing from the beginning, assuming she's able to keep body and soul together for that long. It goes without saying that this is a terrible idea: it's just incredibly boring, and the prospect of it is exhausting: I'm really supposed to follow this for another thirty years? Fuck that noise. I'd rather have my gums scraped, as someone once said.

But the point towards which I'm stumbling here: this actually IS pretty interesting, in a perverse way, because it gives us a practical demonstration how--after the manner of Baudrillard--reproduction can drain something (in this case just a lame comic strip, but still) of meaning. When Johnston initially drew the strip, it was unpredictable. What I'm about to say probably isn't true, but just go with me here, okay? Think in terms of FBoFW and nothing else: it was part of the real. Which is to say, it hadn't been assimilated. Johnston could have a character come out of the closet (twenty years after Trudeau had, but never mind that), and people would write angry letters to the editor about the decay of Family Values. She could kill off a dog and have people get all choked up. Hell, as unpleasant as it was to watch, Anthony's sort-of romancing of Elizabeth at least provoked strong reactions in people.

But that's all changed. The strip is entirely a known quality. It has, I feel safe in saying, entered the realm of simulation. It can't do anything to anyone now, other than promote feelings of boredom and bemused bafflement (or baffled bemusement). By copying herself like this, Johnston has succeeded in draining her strip of significance. Now it's just a flat, anodyne image with nothing behind it and no power to evoke anything. It may look the same, sort of, but that's all. "Look" is not the same as "mean." If I were Lynn Johnston (god forbid), I would do that thing that people say is the first thing you should do when you've dug yourself into a hole.


Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

The one thing that keeps me interested is noticing how wildly outdated and wrong, by current standards, the parenting in the old strips is: putting the baby to sleep on her stomach, starving growing children because Mom feels the need to diet, all manner of emotional abuse, generally from Dad, etc. This would be horrifying-but-of-its-time, in a Honeymooners kind of way, except for the weird attempts to present stuff as if it's happening in real time. That just makes it a complete train wreck, and we all know that those things are fun as hell to watch.

Word verification: "cater." Huh. First time I've ever seen a real word for that.

10:21 AM  

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